Why no Talk about Cuba?

>> Sunday, September 28, 2008

February 7 1962, President Kennedy orders his Press Secretary and close friend Pierre Salinger to go out and to purchase him Cuban Petit Upmann cigars. Salinger managed to acquire 1200 of the cigars. The next day Kennedy signed into law a ban on all trade with Cuba, except for non-subsidized sale of foods and medicines. This story is both legendary and true. People like to credit Kennedy with initiating the ban but his was only an expansion of earlier legislation from the Eisenhower administration. Regardless of who exactly started it the isolation of Cuba has been one of the biggest and most glaring policy failures in US history.

Numerous polls have been conducted
on the questions of ending the ban and reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Typically 60%+ would support reestablishing diplomatic ties. The public splits 40-40 on whether the embargo should end or continue. However people think American should be allowed to travel to Cuba based on responses to questions involving interest.

The point in bringing up Cuba is that it could be a potent electoral topic. It is a prime example of the failure of isolation and so has relevance to the current US foriegn policy debate.

Last night in the debate there was a section on the idea of preconditions. Obama came out in favor of meetings without preconditions and McCain continues to demand that we make people give up something before we condescend to talk to them. Here is the video its about 5 minutes long.

Obama focuses mostly on N Korea and on Iran. The debate deals with primarily with the possible meeting with mahmoud ahmadinejad. What is missing here is the use of Cuba as an example of what happens under McCain's foreign policy. Cuba has sat there and its people have suffered for 46 years now as we have isolated it. What has avoiding talks with Cuba produced? Nothing.

I use Cuba as an illustrative point because a change in policy is widely supported at least to the extent of reestablishing diplomatic relations. i suspect not to many people would be upset if we ended the embargo. The polls do not include a very important question that lets us understand how strongly people hold their views, "how upset would you feel if the opposite of your views happened? Very, some what or not at all upset".

People view Kennedy as the father of the embargo but fail to realize that it was actually Reagan who should be credited with the embargo in its current form. After being elected Reagan reestablished the travel ban -- it had been removed under Carter -- and prohibited U.S. citizens from spending money in Cuba, and allowed the 1977 fishing accord to lapse. He made sure to ban travel to the U.S. by Cuban government or Communist Party officials or their representatives and most students, scholars, and artists.

Many people believe that discussing this would be impossible because of the electoral implications in Florida. However the landscape has changed their as well. The changes were evident in the ex-pat communities response to the Elian Gonzalez incident of 2001.

In its aftermath, the Cuban American rightwing splintered. Its more hard-line members formed what is known as the Cuba Liberty Council (CLC) who are behind the Bush administration policy on Cuba - while the CANF has now become an advocate of a somewhat softer line. This split in the leadership of the Cuban American Florida community reflects the demographic change that is now directly affecting the presidential race...

...More significantly, within the Miami Dade Cuban community, the figures show a majority now supporting a re-establishment of diplomatic relations. A Florida International University poll of Miami Dade County residents conducted in February 2007 found that 57.2 per cent supported a restoration of diplomatic relations. 65 per cent of respondents said they would support a dialogue with Cuban government, (this compared with 55.6% in a similar poll in 2004). Although a majority of 57.5 per cent said they still support the embargo this figure had dropped from 66 per cent in 2004. Most importantly however, 64 per cent said they support a return to the policies governing travel and remittances that pertained in 2003 before the Bush administration tightened them.

With a majority in Miami Dade wanting a return to the travel policies of 2003, this has become a key element in the current election race because the Democrats have chosen to fight the current Congressional election on this issue (see, for example, Southern Political Report, 'Florida's Three Cuban Representatives Face Challenges' February 25, 2008). Two prominent Cuban Americans, the former head of the Cuban National Foundation and former head of the local Democratic Party, Joe García and the former Mayor of Hialeah, Raúl Martínez, are running against rightwing Cuban-American Republicans Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart respectively. A Colombian American Democrat, Annette Taddeo, is opposing Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Speaking on BBC News 24 on February 19th about Fidel Castro's retirement, García said it was time for "a more pragmatic policy towards Cuba." This contest has now spilled over into the presidential race, making this the first election since the Cold War that the candidates will have contested over Cuba policy.

Obama has already started down the path of softening the US policy towards Cuba. He has made it clear that he intends to allow for increased travel for the Cuban-Americans to Cuba.

"There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans. That's why I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island. It's time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It's time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime."

McCain of course is totally committed to keeping the same decades old line in place with regards to Cuba. It just so happens that this is an issue where he is on the wrong side of the american people. People do not view Cuba as a threat. The American people see that we trade with China and Russia and Iran. We deal with plenty of people who are not our allys and yet we are hostile to a tiny island that represents the last vestiges of a failed ideology.

Cuba is a perfect case study for Obama to use in his argument that isolation is a failure. Our policy towards Cuba is one out of place in the world we currently live in. Obama has staked his campaign on the idea that the American people are not stupid. America is ready for a change regarding its cuba policy and it can be a home run for Obama.

For More information on the potential benefits of a relaxed US Cuba policy read this pdf , “The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”


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